Top 13 NRL moments of 2023: Drama on and off the field, unbelievable comebacks and stars shine in Grand Final spotlight

With the end of the calendar year nearly upon us, The Roar is looking back at the sporting highlights, lowlights and moments that mattered for 2023 in Australia and beyond. 

It’s now time to look back at the 13 most memorable moments from yet another eventful year in the Greatest Game of All. 

There were plenty of incidents, both good and bad, at club level for the men and women, as well as in the representative arena.

What were the most significant, which ones aren’t that great and which ones did we miss? Let us know in the comments below.

Top 13 NRL moments of 2023

First of all, the moments who made the four interchange spots

Wests Tigers caught out with US soldiers on Anzac jersey: Just when their fans had been through enough with the team’s on-field mediocrity, the club put out an Anzac Day jersey “featuring” US soldiers on the front. No wonder the CEO and the board eventually got the flick.

English forward John Bateman and NRLW player Ruby-Jean Kennard model the Wests Tigers’ controversial Anzac Round jersey. (Photo:

Cowboys register huge turnaround: After being thrashed by the Wests Tigers 66-18 in May, the Cowboys thumped them six rounds later in the return match in Townsville to the tune of 74-0.

Luai creates social media storm: “Chill,” Luai wrote after NSW lost Origin II to lose the series. “All you idiots have work tomorrow morning,” he added, with seven crying laughing emojis.

Kiwi Ferns upset Jillaroos: Leianne Tufuga scored the most important try of her career when she broke a 6-6 deadlock in the second half of New Zealand’s Test against Australia at Melbourne in October, breaking a seven-year drought against the World Cup champions.

13. Dolphins stun Roosters in Round 1: They were supposed to finish last and be cannon fodder but the Dolphins showed they would not only be competitive from the get-go but knock off some big guns. 

They kicked it all off in Round 1 at Suncorp when they not only got the better of the star-studded Roosters but it wasn’t even close as they ran out 28-18 winners. 

12. Ponga upstages Johnson to win Dally M: Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson was the heavy favourite to be named the best player of 2023 but Kalyn Ponga came from the clouds to snare the medal. 

It was an amazing turnaround from the Newcastle skipper who sat out matches with concussion problems and struggled early in the year when he was switched to five-eighth before a successful return to the No.1 jersey.

11. Titans sack Holbrook, bring back Des: In the leaky world of rugby league gossip, the Gold Coast registered a rare mission by sacking their coach mid-season and replacing him with a dual premiership winner without word getting out beforehand.

Justin Holbrook paid the price for his team’s leaky defence and after a year out of the game following his second stint at Manly ending in his sacking, Des Hasler is ready to instil a steely edge to the Titans.

10. Suaalii says sayonara to league: Joseph Suaalii ummed and aahed for a few weeks and then signed a lucrative three-year deal from Rugby Australia after confirming he would see out next season with the Roosters. 

He’s still only young at 20 and his best years are well ahead of him but pressure is already mounting on the prodigious talent to help revive the Wallabies after their disastrous World Cup campaign.

9. St Helens edge out Panthers in world battle: Whether it was pre-season rust, a Grand Final hangover or the effects of the World Cup, Penrith were well below their best on home soil against St Helens in the World Club Challenge in February.

The Panthers scored a late equaliser to force extra time but Lewis Dodd stepped up with a field goal to register a 13-12 boilover.

Tamika Upton(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

8. Upton’s class propels Knights to NRLW glory: The Titans looked like they would be claiming their club’s first premiership trophy in the NRLW decider, leading 18-12 with 10 minutes left.

Dally M winner Tamika Upton then showed her class by cutting through the defence for successive tries as the Knights claimed back-to-back titles.

7. Maroons rise from the dead to win Origin I: The Blues appeared on track to draw first blood in the State of Origin series opener in Adelaide, leading 18-16 late in the contest.

But a Cameron Munster break set up a Valentine Holmes try and then Lindsay Collins outleapt Roosters teammate to seal a trademark Maroons comeback victory.

6. Mam carves up Panthers with GF hat-trick: Broncos fans were rejoicing after young five-eighth Ezra Mam turned the Grand Final on its head with a 10-minute blitz, scoring three tries to turn a two-point half-time deficit into a 24-8 advantage.

5. Dolphins stage 26-point comeback to topple Titans: Down 26-0 after as many minutes, the Dolphins were staring down the barrel of a cricket score against the Gold Coast. 

But they jagged a try before halftime and added four more in the second half, equaling the record for biggest comeback in premiership history when Euan Aitken crashed over for the match-winning try with five minutes remaining. 

Shaun Johnson of the New Zealand Warriors. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

4. Up The Wahs: The Warriors were expected to be also-fans with a rookie coach heading up a ragtag roster which had lost its rising star when Reece Walsh returned to Brisbane. 

But Andrew Webster maximised the talent at his disposal to not only lift the Warriors into the playoffs but finish in the top four and make it all the way to the preliminary finals in the feelgood story of the year for a club which had spent three seasons on the road due to the pandemic. 

3. Storm eliminate Roosters in finals with last-gasp try: Melbourne appeared gone for all money in the semi-final against the Roosters and after Harry Grant was denied what would have been an equalising penalty, Cameron Munster hoisted a high kick as their Hail Mary play. 

Rookie winger Will Warbrick plucked it out of the night sky at AAMI Park to keep the Storm alive and end the Roosters’ season. 

New Zealand’s Jamayne Isaako scores against Australia. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

2.  Kiwis obliterate Aussies in Pacific Championships final: After the Kangaroos accounted for the Kiwis the previous weekend, the Pacific Championships final was supposed to follow a familiar script. 

But the Kiwis outmuscled and out-hustled their more-fancied opponents from the opening whistle and after 80 minutes of dominance, were thoroughly deserving 30-0 winners, dishing out Australia’s worst loss in Test history. 

1. Cleary’s GF masterclass seals Panthers threepeat: The dream of becoming the first team in 40 years to win three straight titles looked over for Penrith when they trailed Brisbane by 16 with only 18 minutes on the clock. 

But nobody told Nathan Cleary the match was over. He set up tries for Moses Leota and Stephen Crichton then stepped his way past tiring defenders to cap off a 26-24 triumph and etch his name into Grand Final folklore with one of the greatest individual performances of all 

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